Thursday, 28 August 2014

BBC PROM 49: RUSSIAN FAIRY TALES


Proms 49 welcomed the Finnish husband-and-wife team, Chief conductor Sakari Oramo and Anu Komsi with the BBC Symphony Orchestra for a family event filled with fantasy, imagination and Russian Fairy Tales.

Tonight was the UK’s premier of Jukka Tiensuu’s (a well-known Finnish composer) Voice Verser (2012) which is a humorous piece composed for the power of voice. Two trios were located in the arena with prommers either side of the orchestra consisting of wood wind and brass instruments.

The first of the three movements was called Desparia and it depicted no other but an air of despair, eeriness and dreariness through highly chromatic scales and gibberish notes from Komsi.

Notes of sadness and tensions were created by the shrilling of violins, repetitive glissandos and unsettling sounds of what one could interpret as mischievous rats. In slight confusion, Desparia ending with Komsi emulated loud cries of moaning which left the audience possibly dumbfounded, yet amused at the same time by its riveting versatility.

Come was even stranger where Komsi began scat singing, laughing cheerfully and operatically which is where her coloratura abilities slowly seeped through – she sung a high F and a high ‘A, three octaves above middle C’ as she told the proms at an interview. She also blew kisses at the audience which made them giggle in silence, as part of the piece.

The last movement Riiti (ritual in Finnish) was a massive stamp on the ground and a camaraderie ‘Hei’ from the BBC Symphony Orchestra with pounding cellos, basses, input from a celesta and flutters from flutes and clarinets that took the piece to the unknown heavens through sheer excitement and tensions. 

It concluded with all musicians sighing loudly of relief. Komsi sung with finesse: despite being challenged with high notes, she handled them effortlessly.

The proms also premiered Karol Szymanowski’s (1882-1937) Songs of a Fairy Princess (1933) where Szymanowski was motivated by his travels to North Africa (Algeria) and Tunisia in 1914. Although he composed three songs for the original voice-and-piano set, our evening’s conductor, Oramo had completed the cycle with three refined pieces with Golden Slippers, Song of the Wave and The Feast.

Komsi's vocals swirl throughout the piece yet, the focus was the subtle floating Middle-Eastern music and fairy tale elements. Flickering woodwind, piano arabesques, highly pitched flutes and soothing violin solos were heightened by twinkling percussions to resemble the princess’ slippers. It is a truly mystical piece; one cannot decipher where Szymanowski and Oramo’s composed parts begin nor end.

However, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov’s moving Scheherazade Op.35 (1888) won the most applause for the night influenced by Glinka-sized orchestra: chirpy piccolos, brass instruments, a pair of woodwind, timpani, percussion, harp and trilling strings. It is the story of a heroine who saves her life by telling her husband, the Sultan magical stories, mostly The Arabian Nights.

Divided into four pieces including The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship, it conjures the most fascination: feat and victory for our storyteller. The development of bassoon solos, then by oboe soon overtaken by tender strings and violin solos enrich the grandiose and curiosity of this masterpiece.

Admittedly, the first piece to open the evening was by Maurice Ravel, The Mother Goose Suite (1911) which did not fit in with the programme. The child-like serenity, the use of Chinese ‘chopstick’ patterns, soft Javanese percussion instruments and pentatonic scales were enchanting, but less dramatic and at a glacial pace compared to the other movements.